Hawaii Raises Smoking Age to 21

June 24, 2015|1:43 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

Hawaii will be the first state to raise the smoking age limit to 21. Governor David Ige signed legislation on Friday that will prohibit the sale, purchase, possession, or consumption of cigarettes, other tobacco products, and electronic smoking devices to anyone under age 21. The law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2016.

Several localities, including Hawaii County and New York City, had already raised the age limit to 21.

Earlier this year, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released “Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products.” The study’s conclusions show that this small policy change can have a dramatic effect on public health. The study estimates if the minimum age were raised to 21 now, then the prevalence of tobacco use by today’s teenagers when they become adults would decrease by 12 percent. If applied nationally, the IOM report estimates there would be 223,000 fewer premature deaths, including 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer. If the study’s conclusions proved true, the impact would go well beyond these lives being saved. The quality of life for hundreds of thousands more would be improved, and the country would have the economic benefit of decreased medical costs and increased productivity.

With this change, Hawaii is poised to improve on its already impressive tobacco achievements. Only 13 percent of adults smoke in Hawaii, the third-lowest rate in the country. In just over a decade, the state has managed to decrease youth smoking by 63 percent.

“Hawaii continues to be a leader in tobacco prevention and control,” says Hawaii Director of Health Virginia Pressler in a press release. “Partners statewide have come together to support this monumental legislation that once again puts Hawaii at the cutting edge of public health policy and protecting the health of our youth.”

Bills that would raise the legal age to purchase or possess tobacco products were introduced in at least four other states: Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Utah.